For Doreen Chanje, serving the nation comes first. That is why she is involved in so many projects that benefit the ordinary person through the Rotary Club and other charitable organisations. Furthermore, through Fairtrade Network, she has fought hard for smallholder farmers and opened fair trade international market access for them. She tells DUMASE ZGAMBO-MAPEMBA her story.
Tell us about your background.
I was born 48 years ago and spent my early life in Chigumula, Blantyre. I did my primary education at Misesa LEA School. I was selected to Chichiri Secondary School, where I only spent one term before transferring to Salima Secondary School where I only did two terms. In 1979, I was among many Malawian girls who were transferred from day-secondary schools to boarding secondary schools. I, therefore, attended Likuni Girls Secondary School (forms two to four). In 1982, I was selected to the University of Malawi’s Bunda College of Agriculture. I completed a diploma in agriculture in 1985 and completed my bachelor of science in Agriculture from 1987 to 1989. I obtained a master of science in nutrition in 1996 from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. In 2006, I obtained an MBA from the Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute. I have numerous certificates in short courses.
Tell us about your family.
I am the first born in a family of four (two girls and two boys). I am the only one alive today. I was raised by my late mother, Cecilia Phwandaphwanda, who was a primary school teacher. She was an amazing woman. I am married to Abel Chanje for 25 years; and we have two daughters – Yamiko and Nohakhelha. Yamiko is pursuing an honours degree at the University of Cape Town. Nohakhelha is in Standard Six at Phoenix International Primary School in Blantyre.
Take us through your professional journey.
What I do today is not something that I learnt in a classroom. But it is a result of the different skills and knowledge that I have accumulated over many years. I started off as a management trainee at Dwangwa Sugar Corporation. I had a short stint as a secondary school teacher before joining the Ministry of Agriculture as a nutritionist. I stayed with the ministry for seven years. I then worked for two years as a food technologist at Malawi Industrial Research and Technology Development Centre, before leaving to concentrate on my consulting firm. Furthermore, I am a farmer and hold these positions as well: President of Blantyre Rotary Club; board chairperson for the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (MITC); founding trustee and chairperson of Women Farmers Association; chairperson of Malawi Business Women Forum; chairperson of Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead), Malawi chapter; board member for Lead-East and Southern Africa; member of National Advisory Council for The Hunger Project Malawi.
Which of your projects stands out to you?
My work in Fairtrade and Competition Network has had a positive impact on the economy of Malawi. The exposure of Malawi as a source of agricultural products that are produced under Fairtrade terms has also grown. For the first time, this year we are sending seven Malawian farmers to represent us in promotional activities in the United Kingdom during the Fairtrade Fortnight, which will run from 25 February to 10 March 2013. I am particularly proud of my involvement in Fairtrade because this is a business model that genuinely empowers and gives access to smallholder farmers to sell their products on international markets.
Tell us about your involvement with Malawi Fairtrade and Competition Network?
In 2008, I was the founding chairperson and trustee of the Malawi Fairtrade Network, and the work that we have been doing since then has contributed to the growth of agricultural exports into Fairtrade markets. Through this network, I also chair the Southern Africa Fairtrade Network, and sit in the board of Fairtrade Africa. Through this network, we have influenced multinational companies to sign big supply contracts with farmers’ associations and cooperatives from all over the world. Malawian farmers have benefited and Fairtrade sales are continuing to grow, bringing in over $90 million (over K33 billion) over the past six years.
What does Fairtrade and Competition Network exactly do?
Fairtrade Network is a platform for Malawian producers that are certified to sell their products under fair trade terms. In this platform, crops grown by smallholder farmers and a few estates are sold on the international market. A minimum price is set for all commodities and there is always a reference to prevailing world market prices. Producers are also paid a “fair trade premium’. This is extra money that goes to the associations or cooperatives to be invested in socio-economic development projects. The money can be invested into the business or in community development projects.
Everyone in the fair trade value chain is audited and monitored annually to ensure compliance with the standards. Failure to comply could lead to suspension and later withdrawal of the certificate to trade.
What inspired you to be involved in this network?
I was inspired by the concept of fair trade in general, because it is a business model that has successfully enabled farmers to access international markets. In Chichewa, we have translated fair trade asMalonda a Chilungamo, which is the literal translation from the Mexican language. You may wish to know that the first commodity to be sold under fair trade was coffee from Mexico, which was exported to Holland in 1988.
How many Malawian farmers have so far benefitted?
More than 20 000 farmers which roughly translate to more than 100 000 people and the network has more than 11 000 workers.
How has your being the president of Rotary Club of Blantyre benefited this nation?
I am the current president for the Rotary Club of Blantyre, until June 2013. Rotarians are involved in charitable projects. Among the projects that we have implemented through Rotary Club of Blantyre are: construction of schools; sinking shallow wells and boreholes; support of medical supplies to the maternity, paediatrics and orthopaedic units at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital; planting of trees on Ndirande Mountain and support to street children. Our flagship projects for this year are cleaning and rehabilitating of Mudi River in Blantyre, and renovation and equipping of the intensive care unit (ICU) at Gogo Chatinkha Maternity Ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.
What big sacrifices have you made in life for you to get to where you are?
I have sacrificed a lot of family time. There were many occasions when I could not be available for school meetings and other important events, because my work took me away from home. Whenever I can, I try to find innovative ways of balancing my work and family time.
What would you want women to learn from your professional journey?
Malawian women must have confidence in their ideas. When we have an idea that looks good, we should put our energies in it to make it happen. The good thing about ideas is that you are able to see how they will end. So, if an idea looks really good, go for it. Sometimes we spend too much time ‘over-analysing’.
What is your company Foodsec all about?
We are development consultants since 1999. We work on issues related to the development of Malawi. In early 2000, when we had droughts, we did a lot of work with both local and international humanitarian NGOs. The work that we did enabled these organisations to access funding to implement humanitarian programmes (food distribution etc). We also offer capacity building in fair trade compliance, which has resulted in the economic empowerment of many smallholder farmers and earnings in foreign currency for the country.
How do you balance your career and family life?
I jealously protect weekends and holidays so that I can spend time with family. Whenever possible, I will bring my children along when I amtravelling.